Posted by: James Shannon | March 30, 2011

Kota Kinabalu Kapers, Part I: Onward To Borneo!

After the the grand time I enjoyed on Penang, I wonder where I could possibly go next to keep the momentum rolling like a bowling ball bearing down on the kingpin of life. I was split between Sumatra, in Indonesia, and Malaysian Borneo.

I will confess — being a novice world traveler, I kinda wilted at the thought of the harrowing bus rides and conditions that supposedly awaited me in Indonesia, according to prior online accounts by fellow vagabonds. Knowing how organized Malaysia was as a country, I felt that the Malaysian side of Borneo supplied the assumed assurance of stability, with enough adventure thrown in to keep things interesting, as the place is covered by mountains, nearly impenetrable jungle, and epic coral reefs that harbour the occasional fatally poisonous creature.

So it was this line of reasoning that led me to book my air ticket with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the eastern Borneo state of Sabah.

But first we gotta get to KL first! All aboard the bus!

The inside of the VIP Bus from Butterworth (ferry ride across from Penang) to KL … little known fact: Malaysian buses tend to have the A/C turned down to Arctic … after this, I never forgot to pack my hoodie in my daypack, brrrr!

My seat … who says bus travel is uncomfortable? 🙂

China Town in Kuala Lumpur, with a view of the KL Observation Tower in the distance … looks 100000 times better when it’s sunny outside!

After a quick one night stay in KL, it was off to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), err I mean LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal), as the unwashed riff-raff that fly budget carriers obviously need to be kept separated from the rest of the civilized population 😛

Initially, in the rush to get on the Air Asia shuttle bus, I thought I left my big bag on the curb — and in doing so, lost 97% of my stuff.  Fortunately, the hard-working and observant crew stowed my bag in the bus when I set it down to put on my smaller daypack, as I found out one full hour later (both KLIA and the LCCT are in a different time zone from KL City it seems), thank goodness!

Three hours, countless deserted tropical islands below, and one satisfying and gratifying piece of buffalo chicken pizza later, Air Asia touched down on the taramac of Kota Kinabalu Airport.  After going through customs (the Borneo Malaysian states have a high degree of autonomy from the mainland), I set out to find a cab into town.  It turns out our friendly neighbourhood taxi cartel was charging 30RM ($10 CDN) for a five kilometre ride to the downtown core.

This was nonsense, I said to myself, there have to be a better price and a better way.  The bus normally only costs about 3RM ($1 CDN), but it shut down an hour before I landed.  In the end, I pulled out my trump card on the cab-driving colluders … I walked down the road from the airport, and around the corner, where the cartel couldn’t see me.  A cab that was returning to town from dropping off fares at the airport picked me up, turned on the meter, and dropped me near my hostel, the Akinabalu Youth Hostel on Gaya Street for 14RM ($4.67 CDN) … go me!

The Akinabalu Youth Hostel was a great base from which to explore the city, with design features like this adding to a sense of style and luxury to what are normally quite basic facilities in this part of the world.  The Jesselton (what KK was called before 1946) Town Clock sits visible in the background…

The lounge area, Akinabalu Youth Hostel.  Notice the shadow of the palm trees on the wall on the right … these waved rhythmically in the wind as torrential rainstorms poured down at night.  Borneo gets these showers 1-3 times a day, most of the year, as there are two seasons — wet season and less wet season 😛

Gaya Street, just after dropping my bags at the hostel, in downtown Kota Kinabalu (KK).  Chinese New Year was rapidly approaching, as you can no doubt tell!

In the interests of keeping this post easy to read and managable, I’ll cut this post here and leave the rest for next time!

In part II of Kota Kinabalu Kapers … James samples the culinary delights of the capital of Sabah … explores WWII ruins, and goes snorkeling and beach bumming … next post should be a heavy hitter, stick around kids!



  1. Beautiful pics, James. That was quite the story about the Taxi cartel, lol !!

    • Yup, gave them the slip, serves them right!

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